The International Writers Magazine: Turkey
The Sultan Democrat
His win was never in doubt. However, many fear he will become a dictator and adopt repressive measures on anyone who will oppose his rule, something which he is at pains to deny.
The election of Recep Tayyib Erdogan in Turkey's first time direct popular vote to the presidency with 52 percent, is sending reverberations with not inconsiderable numbers fearing dark days ahead for the county's traditional secularism, as set by the founder of the modern republic Mustafa Kamal Ataturk in the 1930s.
But Erdogan is wasting no time, saying "I speak for everyone" in the country of 75 million people and all of its 53 million voters. He did not mince his words when he adopted a less abrasive style after his win as he talked of "national reconciliation" whilst being aware that many secularists, liberals, nationalists and even the army, the vanguard of "Kamalism" being especially worried about his next five-year rule set to start on 28 August. What is particularly irksome to them also is Erdogan's use of such terms as new Turkey and the need to put the "old Turkey" aside, as if targeting them and all their seculars leanings.
But this should be seen as far from the truth because Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party had by his recent presidential win learned to play and navigate the political game. He, as prime minister since 2003, and his other party members and ministers became astute politicians as they embarked on roundabout wins in the 2002, 2007 and 2011 parliamentary elections with their support base widening from 35 percent, 47 percent and nearly 50 percent of the parliamentary votes in 2011.
Although coming from an Islamic-rooted party, Erdogan set upon portraying himself as a man deeply believing in advancing what he called his own brand of "conservative democracy" while pushing forward a strong economic agenda, characterized by raising the level of the country's gross national product, industrialization and economic development.
In the last election to the presidency, which he is promising to strengthen through "activating" it's largely ceremonial role by breathing political power into it, he comes as a politician basking in the sunlight of achievements and diplomatic breakthroughs. Between 2003 till 2011 economic growth consistently stood at 7.5 percent per annum with the country bypassing the global economic crises of 2008/2009. Although the figures subsequently came down, his government is stilling aiming for a four percent growth this year, a more robust figure than the World Bank meager estimation of 1.2 percent. Turkey is striving forward at number 15 among the G20 and with per capita income raising from $2,800 in 2001 to around $10,000 in 2011.
This has triggered a general feel-good factor not only amongst Erdogan's and the AKP support base which was established by the Prime Minister and the current President Abdullah Gul. Although it is argued that the party has a wide-support base among what is seen as a burgeoning Islamic class in the first decade of their government, support has also come from different dissatisfied groups, the middle class as well as Kurds, estimated to be 14 million people or anything between 15 and 20 percent of the Turkish population.
Indeed the fact that a Kurdish candidate by the name of Selahhattin Demirtas who stood for the presidency under a Kurdish, socialist and green-left coalition ticket but only got 9.7 percent of the vote; it nevertheless gave Erdogan a push forward and widened his constituency support.
And this occurred in spite of the bad press Erdogan and his party has been getting, first from the 2013 Gezi Park issue were 11 were killed, as well as thousands injured protesting a redevelopment project in which allegations of corruption were made against the prime minister and his government, the 301 miners who died in the Soma mine disaster in May 2014, as well as his attempt to shut-down Twitter and youtube in Turkey.
These were negative developments that many thought would adversely affect the standing of Erdogan and his government. But it was not the case for in the 2014 April local elections, the AKP got 46 percent of the vote which may have influenced his opinion to run for president in the current August elections, beating the second candidate, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a 71-year-old academic-turned-diplomat, by 13 percent.
There appears to be no stopping the man, despite the fact that critics are badgering him for getting a low 75 percent electoral turnout where it's usually above-90 percent in a country were voting is mandatory. Erdogan is still prime minister and he won't relinquish his post till the last day. On 27 August there is an APK conference to choose his successor as chairman of the party and prime minister as stipulated in the constitution. Critics have suggested Erdogan is holding on to power till the last minute before the required breakaway, to make sure the right choice is made and a "Mr Yes man" is installed to carry on an "Erdogan view of politics" that is sure to continue from the presidential office.
Its early days yet, internal recrimination might well not occur. Erdogan believes in treading lightly and softly, softly. The lifting of the hijab ban in public life was only partially made in 2011 after nine years of being in power, while the ban continues to be enforced in the civil service.
The new president-elect is still a pro-Nato member, pro-American and firmly believes in full Turkish membership of the European Union. However, his foreign policy has been described as "neo-Ottoman" with Turkey increasingly turning to the east, to Arab countries to strengthen and widen its relationships with the wider Muslim world while increasingly dodging traditional friends as Israel where ties are becoming strained in favor of the Palestinians.
Whatever the case, a new era is definitely in the offing for the Islamist politician, and we are yet to see how he will conduct himself as president, towards Turkish politics and of his regional and world perceptions and views.
© Marwan Asmar 18th August 2014
marwan.asmar59 at gmail.com
*An edited version of this article appeared in Gulf News.
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